Britain leaves its Eritrean community at the mercy of government extortion

The Eritean community in the UK faces a relentless campaign to pay taxes both to the Eritrean government and to its armed forces on income they earn in Britain.

The British government is ignoring the threats and demands being made by the Eritean government on its countrymen and women living in Britain. The Eritean community in the UK faces a relentless campaign to pay taxes both to the Eritrean government and to its armed forces on income they earn in Britain. The money raised it used, in part, to fund the activities of the Eritrean government in undermining other government in the Horn of Africa. According to the 2011 census, there are 17,300 Eritreans living in England and Wales.

A United Nations report plus documents from the Eritrean community in Britain provides evidence of the activities undertaken by agents of the state, many of them operating from the Eritrean embassy in London. This, despite British nominal support for action to end this extortion, and assurances from the Foreign Office that action has been taken to end the practice.

The UN report by a team of expert – led by the Canadian Africa expert Matt Bryden – laid out in chilling detail the range of methods being used by the Eritrean authorities to extract funds from the diaspora.

Without proof that a two per cent tax on all income has been paid, Eritrean passports are not renewed, visas are not issues, businesses not permitted and money cannot be transferred to relatives.

This is a case from the UK, cited by the UN Monitors.

Mr. “K” left Eritrea in 2000 and established himself in the UK. In 2007, the business licence of his parents’ import-export company in Asmara expired. When the family applied to renew their business licence, the authorities in (the Eritrean capital) Asmara stipulated that in order to obtain approval, their son needed to acquit himself of the 2 per cent diaspora tax payment. When his family contacted Mr. K. he replied that he did not want to pay and his parents renounced him as a member of his family in order to obtain the license, creating a longstanding rift in the family.

The UN Security Council condemned these practices three years ago. Britain voted in favour of resolution 2023 of 2011, which “condemned the diaspora tax”, “demanded” that Eritrea ended it and called on all states to ensure that it ceased.

The UN report says it has received assurances from the Foreign Office that action has been taken to end these practices.

On 20 May 2011, the Government of the United Kingdom notified the Eritrean authorities that, since aspects of the collection of the two per cent tax may be unlawful and in breach of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, until it was demonstrated otherwise, the Eritrean embassy should suspend, immediately and in full, all activities relating to the collection of the tax.

Yet there is evidence that the practice continues to this day. Members of the Eritrean diaspora living in Britain have told the New Statesman that the taxes continue to be demanded from them. Although they are concerned to remain anonymous, the New Statesman has a document showing the payment of the tax dated October 2012, more than a year after the Foreign Office issued its warning to the Eritrean ambassador.

 

 

The translation of the receipt reads:

Per the information we received from you, we confirm that the above sum has been credited into our account and we are enclosing the credit advice. Please complete the transaction in accordance with the procedures, entering it into the database and also the government account system.

Victory to the Masses!

Berhane Yemane

Head of Mission Accounts

Elsa Chyrum, an Eritrean human rights activist, says the Eritrean Government and party agents have since resumed tax collection across the United Kingdom.

Selam Kidane, an Eritrean working with the diaspora agrees. She says the authorities have just altered their strategy: “Following pressure from the British government the Embassy simply changed their collection method. Now most of the collection is done in Asmara, but the amount required is still the same.” “This puts a lot of pressure on families with limited means,” she says.

While the British government fails to halt this abuse, others have acted. In May the Canadian government expelled the Eritrean envoy.

"Canada has taken steps to declare persona non grata Mr Semere Ghebremariam O Micael, consul and head of the Eritrean Consulate General in Toronto, effective immediately," Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in a statement.

But in London the Eritrean embassy continues to operate, unaffected by UN sanctions, or the ineffectual threats from the Foreign Office.

An Eritrean demonstrator waves his national flag during a demonstration on Whitehall in 2012. The protesters were demanding that Britain stops selling arms to Ethiopia. Photo: Getty

Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. With Paul Holden, he is the author of Who Rules South Africa?

Getty
Show Hide image

France is changing: an army stalks the streets and Boris Johnson wanders the Tuileries

Will Self on the militarisation of France, and Boris Johnson at the Foreign Office.

At the corner of the rue D’Hauteville and the rue de Paradis in the tenth arrondissement of Paris is a retro-video-games-themed bar, Le Fantôme, which is frequented by some not-so-jeunes gens – the kind of thirtysomethings nostalgic for an era when you had to go to an actual place if you wanted to enter virtual space. They sit placidly behind the plate-glass windows zapping Pac-Men and Space Invaders, while outside another – and rather more lethal – sort of phantom stalks the sunlit streets.

I often go to Paris for work, and so have been able to register the incremental militarisation of its streets since President Hollande first declared a state of emergency after last November’s terrorist attacks. In general the French seem more comfortable about this prêt-à-porter khaki than we’d probably be; the army-nation concept is, after all, encrypted deep in their collective psyche. The army was constituted as a revolutionary instrument. France was the first modern nation to introduce universal male conscription – and it continued in one form or another right up until the mid-1990s.

Even so, it was surprising to witness the sang-froid with which Parisians regarded the camouflaged phantoms wandering among them: a patrol numbering eight ­infantrymen and women moved up the roadway, scoping out doorways, nosing into passages – but when one peered into Le Fantôme, his assault rifle levelled, none of the boozing gamers paid the least attention. I witnessed this scene the Saturday after Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel ran amok on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice – it was a little preview of the new state of emergency.

On Monday 18 July the French premier, Manuel Valls, was booed at a memorial service for the victims of the Nice attacks – while Marine Le Pen has been making all the populist running, whipping up anxieties about the enemy within. For many French, the events of the past week – including the failed Turkish coup – are steps along the way limned by Michel Houellebecq in his bestselling novel Submission; a via dolorosa that ends with La Marianne wearing the hijab and France itself annexed by a new caliphate.

Into this febrile drama comes a new player: Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary. What can we expect from this freshly minted statesman when it comes to our relations with our closest neighbour? There is no doubt that Johnson is a Francophile – I’ve run into him and his family at the Tuileries, and he made much of his own francophone status during the referendum campaign. In Paris last winter to launch the French edition of his Churchill biography, Johnson wowed a publication dinner by speaking French for the entire evening. He was sufficiently fluent to bumble, waffle and generally avoid saying anything serious at all.

Last Sunday I attended the Lambeth Country Show, an oxymoronic event for which the diverse inhabitants of my home borough gather in Brockwell Park, south London, for jerked and halal chicken, funfair rides, Quidditch-watching, and “country-style” activities, such as looking at farm animals and buying their products. Wandering among ancient Rastafarians with huge shocks of dreadlocks, British Muslims wearing immaculate white kurtas blazoned with “ASK ME ABOUT ISLAM” and crusty old Brixton punks, I found it quite impossible to rid my mind of the Nice carnage – or stop wondering how they would react if armed soldiers were patrolling, instead of tit-helmeted, emphatically unarmed police.

I stepped into the Royal Horticultural Society marquee, and there they were: the entire cast of our end-of-the-pier-show politics, in vegetable-sculpture form and arrayed for judging. There was Jeremy Corbyn (or “Cornbin”) made out of corncobs – and Boris Johnson in the form of a beetroot, being stabbed in the back by a beetroot Michael Gove. And over there was Johnson again, this time rendered in cabbage. The veggie politicians were the big draw, Brixtonians standing six-deep around them, iPhones aloft.

The animal (as opposed to the vegetable) Johnson has begun his diplomatic rounds this week, his first démarches as tasteless and anodyne as cucumber. No British abandonment of friends after Brexit . . . Coordinated response to terror threat . . . Call for Erdogan to be restrained in response to failed coup . . . Blah-blah, whiff-whaff-waffle . . . Even someone as gaffe-prone as he can manage these simple lines, but I very much doubt he will be able to produce rhetorical flourishes as powerful as his hero’s. In The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History, Johnson writes of Winnie overcoming “his stammer and his depression and his ­appalling father to become the greatest living Englishman”. Well, I’ve no idea if Bojo suffers from depression now but he soon will if he cleaves to this role model. His Churchill-worship (like so many others’) hinges on his belief that, without Churchill as war leader, Britain would have been ground beneath the Nazi jackboot. It may well be that, with his contribution to the Brexit campaign, Johnson now feels he, too, has wrested our national destiny from the slavering jaws of contingency.

Of course the differences between the two politicians are far more significant: Johnson’s genius – such as it is – lies in his intuitive understanding that politics, in our intensely mediatised and entirely commoditised era, is best conceived of as a series of spectacles or stunts: nowadays you can fool most of the people, most of the time. This is not a view you can imagine associating with Churchill, who, when his Gallipoli stratagem went disastrously wrong, exiled himself, rifle in hand, to the trenches. No, the French people Johnson both resembles and has an affinity for are the ones caught up in the virtual reality of Le Fantôme – rather than those patrolling the real and increasingly mean streets without. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt